Young Musicians and Munchkins

Yesterday was quite the day: the Young Musicians of Minnesota made metro-wide news.


Yeah, unbeknownst to the locked out Minnesota Orchestra musicians, the Young Musicians of Minnesota brought their instruments to Nicollet Mall to play a concert of Tchaikovsky 4 in front of US Bancorp. Their mission? To send a message to Richard Davis to end the lockout of their mentors and heroes. YMM members deliberately didn’t tell the musicians what they were up to. I’m sure there are rumors floating around the upper floors of US Bancorp and Wells Fargo that those damn musicians put ’em up to it, but to believe that would be to succumb to the worst kind of cynicism. (Hear that, Minnesota Orchestral Association monitors? Good.) Sadly, Richard Davis didn’t acknowledge the crowd, nor did he send anyone down to say hello, but they did get an awful lot of attention on the Mall.


Some of YMM at the US Bancorp gig

I couldn’t be there, but I was tipped off about the show beforehand, and so I shooed some dedicated Twin Cities Larkers to downtown Minneapolis, and I heard a couple reports of how the afternoon went. Well it turns out there was press there, and US Bancorp couldn’t really do much about any of it except watch uneasily and talk to people on cell phones.

Consequently the following three videos aired last night on KSTP at 4:30, 6, and 10. Kudos to YMMer Emily Green, who has more composure in a major interview than any other teenager I’ve ever seen.

I did notice, though…. There’s something in the first video that got snipped out of the second two. See if you can spot it!

Yeah, the whole part about Richard Davis; in other words, the whole reason for the concert.

I’m about to go all conspiracy-theory on you, so hang on.


Gotta adjust this here. Just a sec.

Okay. So.

KSTP is owned by billionaire broadcaster Stanley Hubbard. His wife Karen is a director emeritus at the Minnesota Orchestral Association. The Hubbards are big donors to various right-wing groups, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, and as you can imagine, they aren’t sympathetic to labor. (Or, I imagine, the Young Musicians of Minnesota…) Were the KSTP reporters asked to tone their coverage down? Or was there an angry phone call from US Bancorp – or any of the other major companies represented on the board of the MOA – to KSTP? Or are these, as Stephen Colbert is fond of saying, the insane ramblings of a syphilitic brain? Was it a mere coincidence that Mr. Davis was excised from the later reports? Am I going nuts? What do you think? Judge for yourself.

Oh, politics. Must you worm your way into everything?

Speaking of politics! One of the gentlemen who was present at the impromptu show yesterday was a former chair of the Minnesota Republican party. He got into a discussion with one of my readers about the lockout, and he was apparently very frustrated at her inability to realize classical music is dead and Minneapolis is Detroit. I’m so thrilled this conversation finally sparked yesterday. The community hasn’t had a chance to debate one on one, eye to eye, soul to soul, and we deserve to have that chance. I guess we need to take it to the streets. In any case, this gentleman has been telling board members that they just ought to resign. And very suddenly, very unexpectedly, the gentleman and my reader found themselves in complete agreement.

Then, just as the YMM excitement was settling down, another reader emailed me. During some routine Googling, she’d found an amazing article about Richard Davis. This is the only article I’m aware of in which Mr. Davis discusses his relationship to the arts. And it was quite illuminating. Apparently as recently as 2010, it was his dream to be a bass player in the Minnesota Orchestra. (They do have a principal bass spot open….just saying…) He also describes how he got into the performing arts himself.

Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal breathlessly sets the scene:

It was the mid-1960s. Davis, who was not yet 10, had accompanied his mother, Neva, and sister, Patricia, to a cattle call for a Christmas production of the “Wizard of Oz.” On a whim, and without his mother’s knowledge, Davis tried out for a singing part in which he had to tap dance.

“I could tap dance like nobody’s business until I was 10, and I could sing. So I tried out,” Davis said.

When the aspiring Munchkins were called into the auditorium and the names of the ones who had won parts were being called, Davis’ sister uncharacteristically didn’t get a role. But they called the name “Ricky Davis” for a part in the Lollipop Guild…

Davis earned $28,000 for his two-week job, and that money helped get him through college years later. But Davis, who is judicious about telling this unlikely story about himself, said the event illustrates one of his greatest strengths in the business world.

“I must have been very comfortable. I was on that stage for two weeks. I could get in front of anybody,” Davis said. “I don’t remember the last time I was uncomfortable in a setting that I couldn’t figure my way through.”


Martin Freeman demonstrates my reaction to this article

Yes. Richard Davis has never been uncomfortable in a setting he couldn’t figure his way through. Awfully good to know.

In any case, I think it’s safe to say the lockout is a circus, and the ringmasters – and/or the tap-dancing Munchkins; not sure which – are losing control. Maybe they already have.


REMEMBER: RESIST THE PRIMAL URGE TO PHOTOSHOP, KIDS!! Audience members absolutely positively should NOT want Photoshopped Munchkins floating around the Internet, okay? The fact that there are three men spearheading the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, and the fact that the Lollipop Guild consists of three men, does not give us permission to freely and gleefully Photoshop them, or give us permission to refer to those three men in conversation or comments as “The Lollipop Guild.” That would be the total height of rudeness and disrespect; it has absolutely no place in any discussion of the lockout whatever; and I absolutely positively do not want to see photoshopped Munchkins anywhere, especially not rich tap-dancing ones that earn $28,000 for two weeks’ work, on my Facebook page or in fact on any other page. This absolutely should not become a meme, trend, or in-joke in the orchestra business or Twin Cities in general. Got the message? Okay.


Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

27 responses to “Young Musicians and Munchkins

  1. Amy

    I am still quite….stunned…by the $28K salary for one Munchkin. I mean…either that’s A) correct or B) incorrect.
    And if A) then….WHAT THE WHAT the WHAT??? who financed this amazing gold-plated production?
    And if B) then…how often do major bankers just weave zeroes in and out of their anecdotes? Is it that fluid? Do zeroes come and go? Does this happen very often? Should anyone be concerned that he just unloaded milions in stock?

    • Amy, you forgot to mention that the $28K (roughly the equivalent of $225,000 today) for two weeks work happened in the 1960’s was paid to a 10 year old in a Christmas production. That makes this statement even more… shall we say… beyond the limits of believability… unless, and I’m just hypothesizing here, maybe the producer was someone similar in wealth to Stanley Hubbard and also a family friend… Safe to say, though, that this WAS NOT a UNION production, because then, the young Ricky Davis would have likely made $280 for two weeks work, not $28,000. Oh, but wait, those greedy union musicians make SO MUCH money!!! I’m confused.

      • MaryAnn, are you perhaps….puzzled?


        • Bonnie West

          I love your quoting of Davis….. “I’m confused.” Indeed he is and I suspect he is just lying about the $28,000 because he doesn’t realize that is a lot of money since he makes so much… hmmmm isn’t that about what many single seniors make on Social Security NOW for a year??? and he made it as a 10 year old in the 60’s. gag.

      • Andrej

        I must break my silence. I was a part of that same production and netted $25,000 to be Toto. Understandably, I’m a bit ticked off at the salary disparity. And I still have back problems from the little basket I had to ride around in. Oh, the injustice!

  2. Lolli

    Ask and you shall receive. Keep up the great work!

    • Wow, Lolli, I am so shocked that anyone would misconstrue my firm denouncement of any and all Photoshop jobs of MOA leaders as Munchkins. This is a terrible terrible thing that you’ve posted and you are incredibly lucky that I made a vow at the beginning of my blogging career to allow and approve all reader comments, no matter how heinous. I cannot fathom what sick twisted force of darkness motivates you. I urge everyone to not click to see this incredibly lifelike Photoshop job, which is very very well done technically.

  3. Elizabeth Erickosn

    Glad you brought this very puzzling tidbit to our attention, Emily. I think in 1963 our beautiful new house that my parents’ had custom build cost somewhere around $23,000. I think RD is using what I call “Fuzzy Math” Maybe as a 10 year old, he started telling everyone that he made $28,000 and continued the lie for so long that he actually started believing it was true.

  4. Sarah

    Re Detroit – haven’t they had major governance changes? And lots of retreats, and counseling??

  5. gfmommy

    So Richard Davis thinks that, as a 10-year-old, his tap-dancing abilities were totally worth $14,000 for 2 weeks, but that world-class adult orchestral musicians are worth, oh, maybe what he pays his secretary?

    What DOES he pay his secretary, anyway?

  6. Jan

    The YMM make me proud to be a music educator. What committed, courageous musicians they are! Thank you for covering this, Emily and for the wonderful work you are doing in general for the future of the MO. Interestingly, I tried to find the videos of the YMM’s Nicollet Mall concert on the KSTP website and they are not there. Your conspiracy theory seems pretty plausible!

    • YMM makes me proud to be a musician! If anyone ever needed any proof of what music can do, here it is: it teaches discipline, organizational skills, confidence, poise, persistence…and on and on and on! It’s interesting to me, upon reflection, that more classical musicians aren’t strident activists, because we learn just about all the skills to be one in the practice room and on stage!

  7. JKM

    Thanks for showing us how the videos of TV reporting on the performance of the YMM on Nicollet Mall were edited down to remove any reference to Richard Davis. At least there was minimal reporting. There was NO reporting in today’s Star Tribune. The top story for the Strib in the Entertainment/music category was the breathtaking news, “Acqua owners buy Fine Line Cafe.” Where was Mr. Graydon Royce to report on the cultural event of young musicians playing Tchaikovsky? Oh, I forgot. The editor and CEO of the Strib is Mr. Klingensmith, who is also on the Board of the MOA. Maybe MINN POST will have the courage to praise the performance of the YMM. So far, silence there as well.

    • To be fair, I don’t know if Mr. Royce was informed of the event beforehand, and it did happen awfully quickly. If he even knew about it, he may not have had time to get there. If y’all think it’s something worth covering, you might want to email various reporters and encourage them to look into the story. :)

  8. Sarah

    I would so love to be a fly on the wall in a relevant place, watching various people read this. Do they really think that people might not notice the censorship? Or, to bring Oz into it, do they just think they can say “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”? Kind of like “pay no attention to that blog because blogs don’t matter”?

  9. Drummer B

    They could have had a flashmob! I have a friend from highschool who lives in Madison, working for UoW who totally would have made the trip.

    I’m not so sure about the high-up conspiracy theory though. Does the MOA have a PR dept? They hired someone to do that, iirc. If so they probably had someone monitoring the press wires and called in to request the reference to them be removed.

    What’s bad is that the reporting crew actually did that. I’d be shooting the reporter/s an email and asking what gives? Might not have been them either (graphics producer maybe…) but they *would* def know even if they couldn’t openly admit it.


  10. Some excellent observations, Lark. I’ve been following this whole thing from afar, as a former Orchestra subscriber who moved from Minnesota last year. One thing I’d like to (lightheartedly) take exception to, however, and that’s the description of Karl Rove as “right-wing.” As someone who considers himself a political conservative/libertarian and would accept the colloquial application of “right-wing,” I can assure you that many of us would wretch at the thought of being in the same group as Karl Rove. To us, Rove is part of the Washington establishment, a hack who’s nothing more than a tool for the unholy alliance between Big Business and Big Government. In the true sense of what the expression means, Karl Rove is neither “right-wing” nor conservative. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course…)

    Keep up the good work on the coverage!

    • Yeah, I can definitely agree with that characterization of Rove. “Bat**** crazy” might also apply. ;)

      Thanks for the kind words.

    • violinista

      I’m a conservative and a musician (they may not be common, but they exist) and I’d also appreciate not being stereotyped. I have mixed feelings about the union, but not about these kids. People are complex like that. Thanks.
      I just shared your latest entry on my FB, too.

  11. I have been following this blog for some time and lots of other opinions from far and wide. I really feel the whole situation here and elsewhere is being looked at far too narrowly, with far too much focus on personalities.
    I think after over 60 years of being very much involved in the classical music scene I think I’m qualified to give an opinion.
    I wrote this piece on my blog yesterday.
    As I point out, in Europe where government funds have been a much larger part of the funding mix than here, are having to be much more creative, as state funds dry up fast.
    The fact is that classical music is part of a global music industry and has to be managed as such.

    • Sarah

      There are a lot of non-global specifics about the MN Orchestra which don’t lend themselves to a “global” approach. It’s not just about money and/or philanthropy. It’s about total control. Other orchestra situations don’t involve this particular mix of issues, so narrowness/specificity is called for.

      • To be sure the boards tactics are brutal and appalling, however the fact remains, that the board members are contributing 20% of the funds that have kept the MSO operating and they have been increasing their share. It seems they don’t want to do it any more. They would be better off just saying it straight up.
        Frankly, I doubt there will be a stampede of volunteers to replace them. There really is no obligation on any member of the community to assume this burden.
        So in the end there is no alternative to increasing earned revenue, to provide the musicians a decent living. As I have said many times that means a massive harnessing of technology to sell world wide. Any other solution will just delay the inevitable.
        My point is that they are getting this point elsewhere. Just Google The Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall and Medici TV and see what I mean.
        In the US only Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met gets this. He has been successful, in large part I believe, because he had been a senior executive in the global music industry. The Met Player is making good money for the Met.
        All Orchestras need to be heavy with board members from electronics and IT spheres going forward. That is the only route to long term sustainability that I can see.
        I disagree that our situation is fundamentally unique. It has hit the buffers harder here, because the Twin Cities are a relatively small urban conurbation in world wide terms, trying to fund too many arts organizations in traditional ways. Couple this with a massive loss of industrial base here and you have the perfect storm.
        Unfortunately the ham handed way the board have gone about solving these issues, has obscured the truly fundamental ones.

  12. Amy

    I just noticed the second video was re-titled a much blander “Musician Support”… a change from the original “Call To End Lockout”.
    Interestingly, the last video restored the title, though it still omits mention of Davis.

    • The last video does omit Davis, but note how the talking head at the end sends us to bed with the comment that the musicians rejected the contract offer in October–hence, this is truly all their fault, those ingrates! Why would any upstanding young musician want to emulate them? My word, the chutzpah of it all!
      Ahh, poppies, pleasing to the eyes…

  13. Most of the discussion on this blog is not useful or germane to solving the problem.
    We have to ask why has this gone on so long? I’m certain that it is because both sides are bewildered and don’t realize why the rug is being pulled out from under them.
    Focusing on personalities will get is nowhere We have to understand and research what is really happening.
    I have been researching the real issues diligently.
    This report from the Rand Corporation hits all the boxes. This discusses the issues with greater clarity then any of the hundreds of articles I have now read. It really is important the everyone reads this.
    Unfortunately it is not good news for the musicians. This explains that in all probability they will see steady erosion of income at least in the short term.
    We might put a temporary band aid on this problem if we are lucky, but events will soon overtake us, unless we understand the forces at work and how to manage them.
    And yes, Amy, this does have a lot to do with globalization, the Internet and world super stars.
    The good news is that the data clearly shows a way out if we keep our heads and change course as dictated by the data. A radical change of course is required and not business as usual. The latter will shutter the doors for ever.

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